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Congress could balance the budget, pay off the national debt, rebuild America and slash taxes if it sold all federal lands except whatever is needed for parks, recreation and national security.

The federal government is in the oil business, the timber business, the cattle business, the electricity business, the mining business and the business of just watching over 724 million acres of public land administered by a train load of federal agencies and an untold number of regulators and bureaucrats.This phenomenon was never mentioned as one of the reasons for the Revolutionary War. The first Congress set in motion methods to dispose of public lands. As the nation grew, public land was sold or granted to homesteaders, railroads and veterans. It was sold for timber and mineral rights and used to establish roads and schools.

The federal government has granted more than 328 million acres to the states. But it retains more than twice that amount. All off the tax rolls. Much of the land was considered too arid, wet, mountainous or otherwise inhospitable for settlement.

The Bureau of Land Management administers 272 million acres. The Forest Service oversees nearly 190 million acres. The Tennessee Valley Authority - the friendly federal electric company - has more than 1 million acres. The Bureau of Reclamation has 5.5 million acres.

And acres by the millions are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the military.

Most people think of national parks when they think about public land. The National Parks Service administers nearly 73 million acres. While that is a lot, it is only 10 percent of the total public land administered by federal agencies.

It's possible to live quite nicely without the federal government owning a big chunk of your state, thank you very much. Since Texas is the only state to have been an independent republic, it was able to negotiate its entry into statehood. Texas kept its debt, about $10 million, and the federal government kept its hands off Texas land.

The decision to join the Union can still be argued, but it is beyond argument that Texas benefited by keeping its public lands. All states should be so fortunate.

The feds administer millions of acres of public land that is used for grazing, mining, oil and gas, logging and various private enterprises.

There are endless stories about the public getting the shaft on government-approved mining leases on public land.

Public land that isn't good enough to be a national park should not be leased for pennies to rugged-individualist western ranchers who detest the government that fattens their pocketbooks. Congress should sell public grazing lands to these anti-government ranchers, or whoever pays the highest price. Let them pay taxes on the land.

Congress could even open up a few million acres to homesteaders. Poor people packed into the nation's deteriorating inner cities might see opportunity in hard work and sunshine on their own land.

What land the federal government doesn't sell, privatize, grant or homestead should be handed over to the states.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course. Public land should be preserved for unique beauty, historical significance and recreational benefits. Public land is needed to maintain national security. A federal infrastructure of roads, bridges, rivers and canals must be maintained.

Right now America is the world's greatest debtor nation. The notes for that debt are held by the Japanese, Germans, French, Saudis, Brits and the rest of the world. We should pay them off and do something nice for ourselves.